Drawing Criticism, Jordan Peterson Lectures at ‘Free Speech’ Initiative

Mask of Compassion
Akash Wasil ‘19 asks Professor Jordan B. Peterson about preferred gender pronouns at an event hosted by Harvard College Open Campus Initiative.

Amid silent protest, Jordan B. Peterson, a psychology professor who has drawn criticism for his stances on gender identity, spoke in the Science Center at an event hosted by the newly formed Open Campus Initiative Monday evening.

At the event, Peterson outlined his criticism of transgender people, arguing that the idea that biological sex and gender were independent quantities was “wrong.” Peterson also sharply criticized ‘safe spaces’ on college campuses, women and gender studies, and activism.

Discussing his public refusal to use pronouns other than “he” and “she,” Peterson said, “One thing I won’t do is use the made-up words of postmodern neo-Marxists, who are playing a particular game to gender identity, as an extension of their particular reprehensible philosophy.”

The event attracted quiet protest. At the start of the event, several students stood outside the Science Center with a banner sporting transgender flag colors, and flyers with information from the Office of BGLTQ Student Life. Around five students inside the event held up signs with statements of solidarity with transgender people during Peterson’s talk.

The Open Campus Initiative, a recently formed student group seeking to “test” Harvard’s commitment to free speech, invited Peterson to Harvard. Their first two invited speakers, Peterson and political scientist Charles A. Murray ’65, are both far right academics known for their controversial views on race and gender.

Some students criticized the group for inviting these speakers, arguing that it gave a platform to hate speech.

The event was organized with assistance from the Office of Student Life. Associate Dean of Students David R. Friedrich and Assistant Dean of Student Life Alexander R. Miller were present at the event, in addition to multiple Harvard University Police officers.

Protesters all remained silent throughout the event, which Open Campus Initiative president Conor Healy ’19 praised.

“I was really pleasantly surprised there were no disruptions. And I thought we did a good job challenging [Peterson],” Healy said.

Speaking to an audience overwhelmingly comprised of white men, Peterson said he thought college campuses were “overrun, in large part, with disciplines that have, in my estimation, no valid reason to exist.”

“I think disciplines like women’s studies should be defunded,” he said. “We’re causing full time, destructive employment for people who are causing nothing but trouble. What they promote has zero intellectual credibility.”

The Open Campus Initiative's next planned event will host divisive political sciencist Charles Murray in September.

—Staff writer Graham W. Bishai can be reached at graham.bishai@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @GrahamBishai.

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